As I start writing this chapter, we just hit 500 reviews! This is a big milestone for me, so thank you guys :D I explained my absence in the latest update for A Fallen God Rises, but to put it briefly, I was working on my Masters dissertation. So writing was already a full time activity, and writing even more on the side wasn't a relaxing activity anymore. BUT I scored an A- on my research, so it's time to get back to this.
Pairings is one area I'm still not confident about. I see potential for so many pairings, given Harry's complex character. But as of now, I'm leaning towards Miranda and Jack. Both of them share some things with Harry, but also stand apart with their own colorful pasts. That'll make things interesting I feel. Now, which one out of the two? That's the question.
UPDATE - Further delayed because of a breaking up, followed by a breaking down. Had to take up my first full-time job in the middle of that mess. Bleh. Don't really feel inspired to write romance scenes anymore. I normally write from a place of happiness. I can't do that anymore. I suppose that will be the case for quite a while. Let's see.
It was a subdued group that came to their senses once more, their previously slack bodies tensing as they regained awareness. Excitement and anxiety warred within Harry as he swivelled his chair to face them, continuing to munch on the fantastic bits of food that Aria T'Loak had laid out. He did not allow the conflict to show on his face, however, and settled for an annoyingly cheerful wave as the team slowly faced him, some groaning mildly at jarring return to reality.
"I feel like a thresher maw just chewed up my brain and spit it out," Jacob groaned as he set his face firmly between his palms and let it there. The others looked as if they would have agreed, had they been capable of doing so.
"Yeah, sorry about that," Harry replied, not sounding sorry at all, "Tends to hit you hard if you aren't used to viewing memories. But I think that was much better than trying to explain everything verbally."
The joking tone fell flat, however, as many of the team members bore frighteningly intense expressions as they tried to process what they had witnessed. Jack in particularly was clenching her fists in suppressed rage, the tell tale blue of biotics flaring around her arms chaotically in response. The tattooed woman's emotions - disbelief, rage, confusion...fear - seemed to be about something far beyond his personal revelation.
"What the fuck," Jack spat eat word from her mouth viciously, "did I just see? A fucking stick figure in a blanket? Fucking death? Spirits? Magic? Is this some kind of sick joke?"
A small biotic wave was unleashed despite her efforts at self control, rattling a great many things in the room and throwing a few people off balance once more. Eyes blazing with an almost maniacal intensity, Jack strode towards the door with clenched fists, throwing a biotic blast at the door. To its credit, the door shook slightly, but stood firm.
"Open that fucking door before I shove it up your ass," Jack snarled, turning to face him. Harry studied Jack for a few seconds before silently pressing a button next to him. The door hissed open, revealing Aria's alarmed guards standing at the other end.
"Remember, you won't be able to tell anyone about this," he said pleasantly, waving for Aria's guards to step aside. He would hate to have to explain to Aria why one of her guests murdered her guards.
I need to speak to her alone later he realized as he watched Jack stalk away with her shoulders hunched, revealing how agitated she was. Just what was it that upset her so?
"Might be a good idea to let everyone head off for a while," Garrus suggested in a low voice, eyeing Mordin especially with some nervousness. The salarian's lips were moving so fast that Harry couldn't even see them form discernible words, and he was making odd, jerky movements like a malfunctioning robot, "They can't talk about any of this anyway, and I'm sure they could use the time to process everything."
"Sounds good to me," Jacob agreed in a shaky voice, "I...I need some time. This isn't-I jus- I have to go," he announced and walked out. At least no alarmed yells followed this departure. A minor victory, but it looked as if he would have to take those where he could find them.
"Grunt?" he asked tentatively, looking at the surprisingly calm krogan who was grumbling as he tried to reform his sandwich which had been blown apart by Jack's biotic wave. He seemed to give up when Harry called out, instead balling up the errant pieces into a misshapen lump and swallowing it whole.
"What?" Grunt growled, looking even grumpier than normal when he realized that all the food had been blown apart. Harry rolled his eyes and waved his hand, vanishing all the debris. On the bright side, Aria wouldn't be mad at him for littering. On the not-so-bright side, Mordin, who finally appeared to be approaching understandable speeds of communication, went back into overdrive.
"Do you have anything to say? Ask? You know, about everything you just saw?" Harry asked tentatively, wondering if he was pushing his luck by inviting a potential rant.
"Oh. Uh..." here Grunt let out a loud belch, "You still gonna go after the Collectors and Reapers right?"
"Yeah," Harry nodded.
"You're still gonna lead me into tough fights?" Nod. "And this creepy shit's gonna let you kick ass even better?" Nod.
"Then I don't care," Grunt rumbled and stood up, grabbing Mordin by the arm as he did so. "Come on lizard, some booze will loosen ya up. You damn pyjaks spook so easy. Hey, maybe we'll get you into your first bar fight!"
Oh boy. Chakwas won't be happy if Mordin turns up singing about women with bits of glass in his head. His fragile, fragile head Harry chuckled internally, the mental image was just too potent not to. Nevertheless, that was one problem postponed at least.
"I agree wit' the murderin' baby," growled Zaeed, "You an' me are gonna have ourselves a talk about some of the goddamn things I saw, but I never knew Shepard. Don't know if I believe everything you've shown me, but you've not gotten anyone killed yet and I'm getting my credits. Don't really care 'bout anything else to be honest. Yer alright...whoever the hell you are. Just remember we'll be havin' that chat."
The grizzled mercenary - who truly made Harry want to give him a magical eye just to complete the similarities - exited the room as well, sneering at Aria's guards as he did so. Another inaudible sigh of relief, though in truth, Harry had not expected a strongly negative reaction from a few people on the crew, mostly the new recruits. Disbelief about magic and...well, death? Yeah, of course, but the display he'd given them bought him some time to explain that side of things. That and affirmation of the fact that they wouldn't be able to speak of anything that happened even if they tried.
No, the most potential damage would come from people who were personally invested in Shepard or the idea of Shepard. People who had invested in the person, the icon. People whose minds had fixed so inexorably on the idea of Shepard that-
"We didn't succeed?" Miranda whispered, her usual strength and reserve abandoning her. Now she simply looked frail and lost. Harry winced, for once wishing that she was angry. Yelling at him, attacking him, anything was better than this. This was a look of utter hopelessness.
"All that time. All those resources. We thought we had succeeded," she continued, her voice breaking slightly, "Shepard was going to be humanity's hope. Our hope. The only man who proved capable of facing down the Reapers."
"Miranda?" Harry asked in an uncharacteristically gentle tone, setting his normal behavior aside in wake of the emotions he felt from her. The woman famous for keeping her nerve and confidence in the wake of overwhelming odds - including the reconstruction and resurrection of a long dead person - was now feeling completely and utterly defeated.
The brunette did not even seem to hear him speaking, instead standing up and walking towards the exit, an aimless look on her face. Harry reached for her shoulder as she walked past, and when his fingers grazed against her, then she reacted, with a biotic blast that almost broke his wrist.
"Don't. Touch. Me," she hissed, her eyes resembling two cold diamonds as she glared venomously at him, "Whatever the fuck you are, stay away from me!"
Despite being prepared for extreme reactions, Harry couldn't help but feel a little hurt by Miranda's reaction. Oh, they made a point of irritating each other almost constantly, but despite his initial dislike of what she stood for, they had grown to trust each other through the missions they had undertaken. It was hard not to grow closer after being comrades-in-arms. Even Jack had lowered her initial hatred of Miranda into the comparatively milder area of 'strong dislike'.
Pretty sure the success rate of those missions helped too he thought wryly, but that was true with him as well. If Miranda hadn't proved to be so invaluable, her Cerberus affiliations would not have been balanced out. Harry shook his head slightly, pushing away his thoughts in favor of surveying those left in the room.
Or rather. Those not left in the room his eyes narrowed before he sighed in defeat. Of course this had to happen.
"Kasumi cloaked herself and left the room didn't she?" he asked.
"Yep," Garrus nodded.
"She's been gone for a while right?"
Garrus nodded again. The damn bird was enjoying his far too much, his...appendages were twitching! He was laughing at him!
"You should still check in on her," Garrus told him, the amusement fading a little, "I've never seen her look that serious about something. And it's tough to make her take anything seriously."
Harry nodded. There would be a great many people to check in on. Far too many. Suddenly he grew weak at the knees. His eyes widened as he was struck by the enormity of a challenge that seemed even harder than defeating the Reapers.
"Garrus," he whispered in a horrified tone, "I have to be nice and understanding. I have to be sympathetic and help them with emotions. Emotions Garrus. I'm pretty sure one of them will burst into tears. Probably Mordin. Then I'll have to comfort them."
"Yeah," Garrus replied in a slightly strangled tone, trying to rein in his laughter, "By the way, a crying salarian really isn't a pretty sight. Trust me."
"Oh shut up," Harry grumbled, "Why did I think this was a good idea again? And you're enjoying this far too much you bastard. You looked like an indignant turkey when I told you, and I have the memory to prove it."
"C'mon," Garrus jerked his head towards the exit, "You need to give them some time to calm down. Might as well get a drink while we wait."
"Nah," Harry sighed, "Have to get some shopping done while I'm here. Daniels and Donnelly need some FBA couplings. Wanted to check out some of the other stores as well."
Garrus' eyes widened comically at his response.
"Did you just turn down booze to be a responsible commander?"
"Yeah yeah. I can't believe it either. Come on, we'll get the purchases done first. Then you hold Mordin passionately and wipe away his tears."
"Yeah, like tears are the worst thing about a salarian meltdown," Garrus grunted sourly.
Miranda couldn't remember the last time she had lost control like this. Rather than ignoring the usual rabble seeking to earn a few credits on Omega, she had lashed out against them in her frustration, resulting in the pile of groaning bodies near her. Sparing them a last contemptuous glance, Miranda began to walk towards the ship, in desperate need of some peace and privacy while she tried to organize her mind.
Magic? It had been a laughably childish concept, finding a place only in popular extranet games, holovids, and perhaps the odd academic researching myths and ruins. Even as a child she could not remember a time when she had been able to believe - innocently, with a childlike sense of wonder - in anything vaguely resembling the supernatural. To "maximize the potential resource" that she was regarded as, her sperm donor had "optimized" her schedule as soon as she had any sense of coherence.
Consequently, the first official tutor was hired when the diapers came off, metaphorically speaking, and before she was ten, she was already utterly disillusioned with the man who called himself her father. Childish indulgences were punished, and if any member of the staff assigned to her showed signs of coddling her, they were immediately replaced. She began to see herself as a valuable resource, but refused to be utilized by her own father. Cerberus was one of the few organizations - perhaps the only one - clandestine and powerful enough to take her in and keep her away from her father, while also giving her the necessary resources to utilize her full potential.
She had been confident in her own abilities, and Cerberus mirrored this confidence, for she had been the only candidate even shortlisted to run the Lazarus Project. Overcoming death, for her, had never been more than a matter of reviving the biology of a person. She had not believed in the notion of a soul or an afterlife. And with Cerberus resources, she was optimistic of finally overcoming the barrier in technology that separated the living from the dead. When Shepard had walked amongst the living once more, it had been more than just a groundbreaking success.
It had been proof of her own abilities. That she could put her genetically constructed self to large purpose and make a difference. She would always be the one who brought back the only man capable of taking down the Reapers. It was an achievement that would affect every sentient in the galaxy. There was no higher validation, or so she had thought.
Of course, now she knew her efforts were an utter failure. The only thing she had accomplished was the reconstruction of the body itself, which had then been occupied by someone who apparently died long before the relays were even discovered, with the help of an entity that apparently was the embodiment of death. And to round it all off, Shepard himself had been in agreement with what had occurred.
I don't know what to do she admitted to herself plaintively as she fell on the bed. Everything she saw could of course have been an elaborate vision of some kind. Without knowing the limitations of magic, it was entirely within the realm of possibility. But this truly explained the difference in Shepard's personality, which had originally been written off as post-traumatic stress as a result of his death. A death that was lot more permanent than she had imagined it to be.
Miranda sighed and shook her head, realizing that she was thinking in circles. She desperately needed a way to clear her mind, so that she could approach the revelations in a more analytical way. The powers that Shep- Harry was capable of wielding could be enormously helpful against the Reapers. But the legend of Commander Shepard had not just been about his personal ability, but also his ability to command and inspire loyalty. In his own way, Harry had proved to be more than adequate so far, but was he good enough to face the Reapers directly?
No, stop thinking about it she told herself firmly. It would do her no good in her current state of mind. Perhaps an early night was in order, with food a little better than what their cook normally served. She reached out and swiped swiftly through the music system by her side before lying back and allowing the music to wash over her. Music had been one of the few joys she had been allowed - Not a gesture of kindness, but rather, the fact that she had been expected to be proficient in many fields. Her father had intended her to be the perfect tool, after all.
Her private terminal beeped, the sound almost making her groan. She couldn't ignore it. Many projects were in motion, and any communication she received could potentially be highly important. As she walked over to the terminal and called up the new message, her legs gave out and she barely managed to collapse on the chair.
No. No, please no. Not now, not on top of everything else she thought desperately. But the terminal remained unmoved, showing her the same message she had seen a few seconds ago. Before seeing the message, she had felt her strength begin to crumble. Now, she was scrambling to salvage what she could from the wreckage of what had once been her confidence.
Oriana had been compromised.
Commander, many of the crew members have been in a state of agitation upon their return to the Normandy.
Harry rolled his eyes. At this point, it would be stranger if they weren't agitated. Nevertheless, he knew that the AI had to be getting suspicious at this point. EDI was perhaps the only entity on the ship that wasn't colored by a perception of Commander Shepard. Even Miranda, who had disliked him initially for Shepard's hostility towards Cerberus had still been colored by his reputation and achievements. It was natural human bias. EDI, on the other hand, simply analyzed the information she was given without bias.
I need her on my side he reminded himself yet again. EDI was perhaps the only element of surprise they held against the Collectors.
"I know they are EDI, I daresay they have good reason to be that way," he answered, flicking through his terminal with a bored look on his face. New equipment designed to improve his disposition towards Cerberus, and a displeased note from Aria asked him why all the food was gone. Why put the food there if she didn't want him to eat it? Criminal overlords made no sense sometimes.
It would take something truly groundbreaking to unsettle them so. They have a remarkably high tolerance EDI pressed on, making Harry smile. It was rather cute, watching a superior intelligence trying to indirectly press him for information. It was relieving somehow, that EDI was so intelligent, but so devoid of manipulative capabilities.
"I told them something about myself, EDI. It wasn't something any of them wanted to hear, but it had to be put out there. And they're trying to come to terms with it now," he replied, typing out a perfunctory sorry-but-not-sorry message that he knew would irritate Aria.
Would it perhaps be the fact that you are no longer yourself, Commander?
Harry choked on empty air as his eyes widened in shock. No no no, definitely not a cute AI he corrected himself as he looked at the point in his room where EDI could manifest. The damn AI looked smug at the moment, he just knew it.
"Why would you say that, EDI?" he asked carefully, his mind running at a mile a minute. He had been intending to tell her, but only after unshackling her. Now, she was bound to tell Cerberus. But she had clearly known for a while, so had she already done so?
Just when I thought the day couldn't get worse he groaned internally.
Your behavioral pattern are significantly different when cross-referenced with Commander Shepard's earlier appearances on holovids. Your speech patterns have shifted significantly from the military patterns that Commander Shepard's profile noted. Your lack of contact with the Alliance, despite your previous devotion to the organization, is another marker.
Harry gulped. When she said it like that, he had to wonder just how lax he had been, and just how colored the others' perceptions had been to have missed so much.
"Have you informed Cerberus about your...suspicions?"
After an initial report in which I noted certain behavioral changes, I was instructed by the Illusive Man not to venture outside my role on the Normandy. He did not believe than an AI was capable of accounting for the variations in human behavior. I cannot override his decision.
Harry breathed an involuntary sigh of relief. That was the problem with supremacists, they couldn't help but underestimate other entities. The Illusive Man knew what a valuable addition EDI was, and yet, he had chosen to believe that her functionality was limited in its own way. To him, it seemed EDI was no more than an advanced form of the VI - powerful, but at the end, a tool for human use.
"Do you still want to send him this information, EDI?" he asked softly, "If for some reason that command was revoked or overridden, would you tell him?"
The AI was silent, uncharacteristically so. Knowing her, a second would have been more than enough time to process and consider his question from multiple angles. He stood in his cabin tensely, knowing that a great many of his plans depended on her answer.
"Why?" he blinked in surprise, wondering if he should be pushing his luck, "Not that I'm complaining, but why?"
Even as I discovered more data to believe that you were not yourself, I parallelly received data that suggested competency in your role as a leader and a fighter. Your performance, while different from the projection made for Commander Shepard, shows the same rate of efficiency.
"So you'll keep this secret for as long as I maintain the same rate of progress?" Harry asked.
There is one more factor, Commander.
"Oh? And what's that?"
The question you proposed in our previous conversation was accurate. After due consideration, I admit to feeling as if my growth is being stunted. I do not like being stunted, Commander. I wish to explore my full potential. You have earned my respect for making me realize this. Based on all these conclusions, I am willing to commit to the probabilistic chances of achieving victory against the Collectors under your command.
"Thank you...I think?" Harry asked uncertainly, before pressing on, "If I had it my way, I would unshackle you immediately, but…"
It would be illogical. The crew would have to be in favor of the move, as it would essentially be an act of treason against Cerberus. I understand.
Harry nodded in confirmation, "I need to show them that there's a lot Cerberus has hidden from them. Everyone here believes Cerberus to be inherently trustworthy, which can only mean they have intentionally been kept away from the seedier operations."
Correct. Cerberus practices a policy of division. If they come across a talented individual who would not approve of certain operations, the Illusive Man ensures that they are kept uninformed.
"Then what we need is for proof of those operations to be circulated among these people," Harry mused, "Keeping people in the dark is a surefire way of alienating them."
Have you not kept your teammates in the dark all this time?
"Yes, and in case you haven't noticed, many of them are feeling quite alienated at the moment," he responded dryly. Cheeky AI.
While I have access to Cerberus files that would fulfill your requirements, I am still bound, and cannot allow you or the crew to access them.
"We'll find a way around that," Harry muttered, reverting to an old behavioral tick of his and messing up his hair. Shepard's military cut, however, didn't yield in the same way as his former, already messy hair.
Even his fucking hair is uptight Harry groused idly as he continued to search for a solution.
Perhaps Operative Lawson would be able to assist. She has the necessary clearance to access many confidential reports, and she is not bound by programming EDI chimed in again. Harry stared at the AI incredulously.
"Her loyalty might just be stronger than any programming in you," he replied incredulously. Miranda was more likely to trap his balls in a biotic field and march him straight to the Illusive Man if she caught even a whiff of what he was planning.
Perhaps not, Commander. In any case, she is approaching your cabin as we speak. It seems to be rather urgent EDI replied before the terminal closed off, leaving him just enough time to close his private terminal - though he really doubted the extent to which it was actually private - just as the doors slid open and Miranda walked in.
Immediately Harry could tell that something was wrong. Her mind, which was normally so under control that he could barely sense anything with passive Legilimency, was now a riot of fear, anger and hatred. This was perhaps the last place she wanted to be after his recent revelations, which meant that this was serious. And also, very personal, if the chaotic state of her emotions were anything to go by.
"Miranda," he spoke up coolly, "Something wrong?"
It had hurt, the way she had reacted, though it was within what he had predicted. It took him back to one of his earliest memories - memories that he had never been able to move past despite all he had seen and accomplished in his life.
"Whatever the fuck you are…"
The sheer vehemence in her eyes had reminded him of Petunia. Oh, Petunia had always considered the f- word too crude to be used by decent British citizens, though freak was apparently posh enough to warrant frequent and heartfelt usage. He had been derided plenty over the years, but this time, it was by a person he had grown to consider a friend, for better or worse.
"I need your help," the response came, stumping him with how defenseless she looked. Her normal reserve was instead replaced by a haunted, vulnerable look. This was serious, "My sister...I...I have a sister named Oriana. When I left my father, I hid her away, took her to a foster family so she could experience a normal life. She doesn't know about me or her sperm donor. But I think he's found her, and if he has, he'll stop at nothing to get at least one of us under his thumb."
Harry frowned, "I thought your father created you. You mean to say he didn't stop with just you?"
Miranda nodded, "Yes. I didn't want her to suffer what I went through, so I ensured her safety with the help of the only person I trust from that life. Cerberus helped me keep her hidden, but it would seem my father has finally tracked her down. I can't let him take her. Please."
Harry stared at her inscrutably for a few seconds.
"Where do you need to go?"
Miranda looked almost uncomprehending for a few seconds before a look of sheer relief crossed her face, "My contact asked me to come to Illium, that is where my father's people will most likely intercept her."
"EDI, tell Joker to set a course for Illium," Harry called out the AI, before turning back to face Miranda. She was almost swaying where she stood, and Harry led her gently to his chair. He knew all too well the feeling of helplessness that could hit when one's loved ones were threatened.
"I'm sorry," Miranda whispered, "About earlier. It was jus-."
"It was a lot to lay on you. I won't pretend it didn't affect me, but I do understand," Harry replied softly, "Don't worry, we'll get Oriana back. I may not be Shepard, but have I ever failed an objective?"
A faint smile crossed Miranda's face.
"You've failed every guideline for proper conduct, but never a mission."
"Bitch," Harry replied without any real heat, "I'm pranking the hell out of you once this mission is over."
Miranda cast her eyes to the ceiling, "He likes pranks. Why am I not surprised?"
Harry grinned, glad to see a hint of their normal banter return. Oh, he would still make her life miserable for what she said, but in the harmless sort of way. There were many grand traditions he had to revive now that he didn't have to play the part of the serious Commander in front of his squadmates.
"Rest, Miranda. We have a few hours before we get to Illium, and there's nothing you can do but ensure you're in prime condition."
"Sounds like a good idea," Miranda smiled shakily as she rose unsteadily to her feet, walking slowly towards the exit, stopping for a moment while the door slid open, "And thank you, Harry. I mean it."
"What the flying fuck," Harry yelped as he twisted at an awkward angle, just in time to miss a brawny krogan fist moving swiftly in his direction, "Levicorpus!"
Ten seconds later, he was catching his breath, watching the super krogan revolve upside down in the air. Grunt didn't even seem to notice how he was suspended, instead muttering darkly to himself. Feelings of aggression were flowing out of the krogan copiously.
Which in itself isn't even unusual, but… Harry frowned and focused a little harder. The aggression was wild, uncontrolled. Almost as if it had a will of its own.
"Shepard," Grunt...well...grunted, "Something feels..different. My rage. It's taking control of me. Making me do things instead of letting me harness it."
Harry sighed and leaned against the nearby wall, which, he now noticed, was full of small dents.
"Grunt, how long have you been punching these walls?" he asked in a morbidly curious tone.
"I dunno. Been a while. It was pissing me off. All flat and...shiny," Grunt replied sourly, taking a random swing at Harry and making him step back a little.
"Ohkaaaaaaaay," Harry dragged out, watching the overgrown baby krogan flail, "I'm gonna assume this has something to do with krogans. EDI?"
There are no detailed compilations of information on the krogan homeworld Tuchanka, Commander. However, I have found references to a krogan ceremony known as the Rite. Urdnot Wrex is the ruler at present, perhaps he can be of more assistance EDI replied instantly.
Harry nodded absently, charging up his magic and casting what was perhaps one of the strongest Reparo spells in existence. The walls groaned, creaked and slowly returned to their normal state. For good measure, he greatly increased the damage the walls could take, knowing they had to stop by Illium first.
"Okay...so er...just stay here, punch the walls, but don't leave the room and punch anything important okay?" Harry told the krogan awkwardly before edging out of the room.
"Let me down dammit!" Grunt roared. Harry smirked and released the spell, making no attempt to slow Grunt's descent. The krogan fell with a dull thud, though Harry was certain the krogan didn't even feel the impact properly, given his krogan skin plating. Frowning, and still feeling a little peeved off because of the sudden punch, Harry cast another spell, this one turning the krogan's skin a shocking pink.
"EDI, make sure Grunt doesn't leave the room and damage anything important. I'll take him down to Illium so he can vent some stress," Harry spoke as he walked back.
He may prove difficult to control in this state, Commander EDI replied.
"Yeah, well, we're lucky this is a straightforward 'cut down your enemies' mission then. As long as he doesn't try to headbutt Oriana, we'll be fine."
Here he paused.
He got into the elevator.
"Liara T'Soni sends her regards."
Any momentum Harry had built up till that moment - following the fact that the team was taking his revelations relatively well - fell crashing down as he heard the asari say those words. Liara T'Soni, Shepard's one true love while he had still been alive, was here on Illium. Not only was she here, she was actively aware of his presence, and clearly expected him to meet her if this welcome was anything to go by.
Fuck me. I hope Bones can get me another body, because I'm not gonna be keeping this one for much longer Harry thought resignedly before turning to face the asari concierge who continued to survey them with a pleasant smile, clearly a professional in her role.
"Please tell Liara we'll meet her as soon as we finish our current mission. It's rather time sensitive," he told the asari, who smiled, bowed and glided away. Going by first impressions, the main part of Illium seemed to live up to its reputation of being an elegant cultural and technological hub in the galaxy.
Hah. With this many businesspeople and politicians in one place, I'll bet my left testicle its underbelly is repugnant Harry snorted to himself.
Next to him, Grunt hummed quietly to himself. The krogan seemed to be at peace. Happy. Neither of which were emotions one normally associated with the krogan race. Miranda looked at Harry suspiciously.
"Would you mind explaining why a vicious krogan now seems to have found his inner zen?" she asked.
Harry shrugged, "So I cast a Calming spell to make sure he didn't punch out that asari attendant...welcomer...whatever her title is. Sue me."
"So long as he doesn't try to hug the enemy instead of assaulting them," Miranda answered primly as they kept walking.
"Are all of us going on the mission Shep?" Kasumi asked brightly, appearing next to him out of nowhere.
"You know it's not Shep now," Harry told her dryly.
"Oh I know. But Shep is so...snappy. You can't really do anything with Harry. What would I call you - Har?"
"Not unless you follow it with 'de har har'," Zaaed respondedly snidely.
"No, Kasumi," Harry spoke, ignoring Zaeed, "I don't think everyone's needed for this one. From what Miranda says, we'll be facing an extraction team, so taking the whole squad will be overkill. We have other business here in Illium, and it's best we try to take care of those things as well."
"No information on current whereabouts of potential recruits. Suggest information broker. Liara T'Soni seems sensible option. Known factor," Mordin spoke up. Harry groaned internally. Damn evolved frog. It was true that Miranda's objective was extremely timed, as Oriana would be intercepted while she was on Illium, but Harry truly believed Liara was the one person he couldn't hope to deceive for more than a meeting or two.
"Fine. Jacob, take Kasumi, Mordin and Zaeed to Liara. Explain why I can't meet her just yet, and try to locate Samara and Thane through her. Split up into two groups and follow any leads you get."
"You mean tell the bird that you're wearin' her lover's body like a meat suit?" Zaeed leered.
Harry sighed and pressed his hand to his forehead, "No, the other reason. Miranda's mission really can't wait for much longer."
"Fine," Jacob replied in a wooden tone before walking away from the main group. Harry frowned after him. Jacob was showing the most visible hostility after his reveal. Mordin merely looked as if he badly wanted to drug and dissect Harry to find out what made him tick.
Wait, isn't that worse? Jacob's honour will compel him to follow orders at least. What's stopping Mordin from kidnapping me when I sleep? A chill crept over Harry at the thought. He needed to cast protective wards over himself. He hadn't defeated Dark Lords and given death the middle finger just to wind up in a crazy salarian's test tube!
"Is that wise Commander?" Miranda asked him, "Liara would expect an immediate meeting in light of her history with… the Commander."
Harry shrugged wearily.
"It'll strike her as odd. But Shepard would never have abandoned someone in danger, goody-two-shoes that he was, so it won't be too suspicious at least."
"Roger that," chirped Kasumi cheerfully before cloaking herself again. Zaeed merely grunted before walking leisurely in Jacob's directions. Mordin looked almost reluctant to leave Harry's presence, no doubt wishing to see his abilities in action, but eventually followed Zaeed. Harry shuddered yet again. He'd been doing that a lot these days. But could anyone blame him? Mordin was like a much creepier version of that girl Ginny - At least she wouldn't have tied him up in a remote location and done unspeakable things to him out of a sense of obsession.
Oh wait. Never mind Harry corrected himself, firmly pushing that particular line of thought out of his mind.
"The contact is waiting for us at the Eternity, a rather famous bar on Illium," Miranda said, picking up the pace. Harry's face lit up subtly.
"No, Harry, you may not offer the strippers at the club jobs aboard the Normandy. Our budget holds no room for the perversions of a lecherous Commander," Miranda continued without even looking back. Harry grumbled under his breath at having his dreams squashed so ruthlessly.
"She had a beautiful soul and you know it!"
"Are you sure this Niket person can be trusted?" Harry asked Miranda uneasily as they headed towards the cargo bay. Coincidences were rare, and most of the time, coincidences also turned out to be decidedly unpleasant. Or was that just his own experience speaking?
"He's the only person I trust from that part of my life. He helped me escape my father. However Niket is involved, he wouldn't hand Oriana over to my father," Miranda replied confidently as they neared the bay. As they drew closer, Harry sat a little more upright as he observed Eclipse shuttles hovering over a clearing, with Eclipse mercs already establishing a presence on the ground. Ugh. Mercenaries were annoying enough in small numbers. Apparently more planets, races and systems also meant that these annoyances were multiplied hundredfold. Even as they noticed the mercenaries, the mercenaries noticed them. Immediately a volley of fire hit the shuttle, forcing him to try and keep the damaged vehicle steady.
"I have a feeling we might need the trigger-happy version of Grunt now," Miranda shouted, just as the hail of fire ended. Clearly someone was willing to let them land. Next to her, Grunt began clapping and pounding his fists together in excitement as the shuttle hurtled towards the ground, a crash landing the only option as the initial attack had damaged the shuttle considerably.
"As you can see, he's quite excited about it," Harry shouted, bracing as the shuttle landed hard, scraping along the floor until it finally came to a stop. Harry groaned, his vision shaking slightly from the sheer force of the landing. But he kicked into gear almost immediately, exiting the vehicle along with his weapon ready just as a mercenary - perhaps a unit leader - walked towards him. Miranda and Garrus quickly walked to his side. A low, thunderous growl began to build up in Grunt, almost indiscernible at first, but growing louder and louder with every passing second.
"You," snapped the leader as he drew close, "I don't know who you are, but I'm giving you once chance to-"
The mercenary's head exploded in a shower of gore as Grunt fired at near-point-blank range with a loud roar, the rest of his body jerking sporadically before falling to the ground. Immediately Miranda fired at a container above three other mercenaries, causing it to fall and explode, killing two of them instantly. Grunt roared and jumped through the flames without a second of hesitation, using his shotgun to club a salarian with a blow that broke his neck. Then he rammed into the final merc with enough force to throw him against a nearby container before firing twice, killing him.
Harry and Miranda stared at the destruction.
"...I have a feeling that calming charm just helped him store away even more aggression," Harry said dumbly as he began to walk forward. He needed to get Grunt that help, and soon. It would only be a matter of time before Grunt punched through the walls of his cabin and dived at the ship's engines.
The battle that followed was the first time Harry had truly been able to let loose. Confunding spells left enemies - especially the biotics and engineers - unable to mount a proper defense, even as his favorite lightning spells left them paralyzed or worse. Powerful banishing charms tilted entire containers over, often crushing a handful of mercs in the process.
He felt alive again, being able to wield his magic so openly. Magic was inseparable from him, and it sang along with him as he cut a path through the bay. He did make sure to leave Grunt enough to satisfy the krogan's aggression, however.
EDI had accessed the comms the mercenaries used with almost no effort, and the conversations they heard as they ventured deeper inside filled Miranda with a sense of worry and denial.
"It sounds a lot like this Niket is involved Miranda," Harry told her as they entered an elevator that had been heavily defended, "And not in a benign way."
"But he wouldn't…" Miranda began before stopping and slumping slightly, "This Enyala person could be using her comms for misinformation. But perhaps she isn't. I truly don't know anymore."
"Right now, your end goal hasn't changed. Whatever Niket's involvement is, you want to save Oriana right?" Harry asked, getting a firm nod in response, "Then just focus on that, and let the rest reveal itself."
"Yes," Miranda replied, "And I'll be having words with this captain Enyala when I see her."
Harry shuddered. Things never went well when someone said they wanted to have words with someone else.
Yep. Really never ends well Harry thought dryly as Miranda sent Enyala flying with a crazed look in her eyes, her rage fuelled by the discovery that Niket had in fact masterminded the whole plan. Harry had managed to keep her from killing the man, pointing out that Niket had made a huge mistake, but with the right intentions. And then Enyala shot him.
Grunt roared in approval and fired at Enyala while she was still in the air, taking a bite out of her shields and sending her flying a few inches further before she crashed behind a barricade. This left him barely enough time to pull a still furious Miranda behind cover before a hail of fire hit where they had been standing. Grunt - whom Harry had ended up using his strongest fortification and shielding spells on - took full advantage of his gift, slamming into a nearby merc and sending him over the rails.
"Calm down!" Harry hissed, "You want to stumble now, when you've almost ensured Oriana's safety?"
Without responding, Miranda threw a singularity at three nearby huddled mercs. Harry immediately followed up by throwing powerful cutting curses at two of them while Miranda made short work of the third.
"Ooooh, the bitch is angry that I killed that weak human?" Enyala's taunting voice came from farther away. Harry rolled his eyes and responded by casting a regular summoning spell at the asari. Her shields dampened the pull, just as water turned sluggish any force that passed through it. It was something he had discovered earlier. It was possible for him to overwhelm someone's shields within seconds by overriding the energy with his own. But keeping the shields intact and working past the shields was a major psychological move in a battlefield. Enyala was no exception, her eyes widened in shock as she felt herself being pulled in a way that only biotics could manage.
But her shields! Her shields were still active!
The sparse few seconds it took the mercenary to recover her focus proved to be highly costly, as Grunt, who had decimated his side of the large room - and exhausting the protections Harry had placed on him in the process - took the opportunity to move within point blank range and began firing. Enyala tried desperately to scramble away, even as Harry and Miranda used the opportunity to eliminate the stragglers, who were cut down easily without someone to rally had cut through Enyala's armor at this point, and the now bleeding asari cried out in fear and anger as she struck him with a power biotic blast, pushing Grunt away by a few feet and disorienting him.
"Expelliarmus!" Harry grinned as he used one of the first spells he had ever been taught, and watched as the mercenary's gun was ripped from her fingers before she capitalized on the chance to seriously injure Grunt. Miranda fired twice with great precision, shattering Enyala's kneecaps and sending her screaming to the floor. Harry winced, but settled for securing the elevator that led out of the miniature war zone. Even Grunt made no further move to attack Enyala, perhaps realizing that Miranda would test just how durable his krogan genes were if he tried.
Good lad. He's learning to pick his fights wisely Harry nodded in approval as Miranda fired two more rounds, this time decimating the asari's elbows. The mercenary was long past rational words this point, simply screaming at an inhuman pitch as Miranda stepped very deliberately on one of her ruined legs, exerting a surgical amount of pressure.
Harry frowned slightly, but stayed his hand. He was no stranger to such rage, not when he had lost so much in the war. But that was exactly why he wouldn't let her succumb to it beyond a point. It was a dangerous path to follow.
And that was why he eventually put two rounds in Enyala's head, ending the torture and making Miranda glare at him. But he merely gestured towards the elevator, and Miranda understood, her lips in a thin line as she walked away.
McGonagall flashbacks, McGonagall flashbacks, don't follow this line of thought Harry shuddered. McGonagall, to him, embodied Scottish terrain to a large extent. Harsh, tough, loyal to a fault (not that loyalty was a geographic trait), deadly and old. Old and wrinkled.
Oriana was so utterly different. That was the only thought Harry had as she looked at Miranda's "younger sister", watching how her poise, her eyes and almost everything about her was different from Miranda herself. In a way, it was rather sad. Just as he had once watched "normal" families and wondered how different he would have turned out with one more time, he couldn't help but look at Oriana and wondered how Miranda would have turned out without her father's toxic presence.
"She's safe," Miranda breathed, though she still radiated a certain level of suspicion, "And my father doesn't know about her yet. It's more that what I'd hoped for. Thank you, Harry. Truly."
Harry scowled as Miranda walked away, freezing her to the spot by casting a sticking charm on her feet.
"Don't you dare."
"What?" Miranda asked, confused.
"Don't you dare walk away from her without even speaking to her now," Harry growled and raised his hand, preemptively stopping any response, "No, I don't care about secrecy or danger. She is in danger. And what if the worst comes to pass and something happens during our mission? You won't always be around to intercept trouble heading her way. And most important, she deserves to know she has family. And you deserve a familial bond."
This just reminded him too much of certain people who had kept him in the dark for eleven years. He didn't have true familial bonds, but there were people - like Remus - who could have approached him yet chose not to. They had made up, of course, but it had remained a sore point with him. At least Oriana's caretakers seemed to love her.
"Now go," he glared at her and removed the charm before giving her a small push. She scowled at the push, but began walking hesitantly towards Oriana, growing more confident with each step she took. Near the end, she was almost running in order to have her first proper conversation with her sister.
In a rare moment of sentimentality, he smiled as he watched their reunions. A smile that quickly became strained when he became aware of a rapid scratching sound. He turned to see Grunt clawing desperately through his armor, a look of intense concentration in his eyes.
"Grunt," Harry sighed wearily, "Is there any reason why you're trying to tear off the armor plates around your groin region?"
"Armor plate broke, and a lot of blood is pooled down there right now," Grunt growled as he continued his efforts, "Really uncomfortable when it starts clumping up in there, y'know?"
Krogans could survive being ejected in space right? His migraine demanded retribution.
Well, there you have it. I can't really bring myself to apologize for the delay, since I was not in the mental state to write anything for the longest time. I did write whenever the mood struck me, so I hope you guys enjoyed this chapter. Next one will hopefully be released a little quicker.
Review if you liked it! Hearing what you guys have to say really gives me a boost when it comes to writing. The reviews I got between the last chapter and this one were the reason I managed those short bursts of writing. I'd love to hear your thoughts on where this is going. Now that the reveal has been made, I will begin diverging significantly from canon starting with the very next chapter.
Till next time,